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Connecticut to use coronavirus aid to expand, revamp summer programs

Connecticut will be using $11 million from the American Rescue Plan to fund summer learning program opportunities.

Officials, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Chris Murphy and Gov. Ned Lamont, among others, held a news conference about the initiative Wednesday. They say the funding is intended to close the learning gap students have faced because of the virtual learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's so much uncertainty for parents right now on what programs are going to be open and available and whether they're going to be able to afford to send their kids to good-quality summer programs," Murphy said. "With jobs returning, workers coming back into an office setting, this summer is a really important time to make sure parents have a safe place to send their kids."

Funding will be provided through a competitive grant process. The state is offering either expansion grants, which are smaller and targeted toward local community organizations that already work closely with students and their families, or innovation grants, which will go toward programs with regional or statewide impact. Expansion grants go up to $25,000 and innovation grants up to $250,000.

Chris Soto, director of innovation and partnerships for the state Department of Education, said the department is going to act as the fiduciary in distributing grants.

The $11 million is part of the American Rescue Plan that was recently passed, Soto said, and is a portion of the federal funding allocated to the state Department of Education.

Blumenthal said the money will be used in part to address racial disparities. "One of the great points about this program is that it will target those underserved communities of color because they have seen twice the death rates and half the vaccination rates," he said.

Soto said expansion grants could apply to Parks and Recreation and YMCA programs, among others, and could possibly expand the number of children they serve. Innovation grants are "looking at these bold initiatives that summer programs maybe couldn't do in the past because they didn't have enough money."

Lamont said he hoped some towns and cities would be able to match money provided by the state and increase the impact of the initiative.

Michele Rulnick, president and CEO of the Middlesex YMCA, and Michelle Doucette Cunningham, executive director of the Connecticut After School Network, said staffing for summer programs will be a challenge.

But, Soto said, the state is working with institutions of higher education to try and organize and deploy groups of college students for summer programs. Speakers at the news conference said there will be plenty of job opportunities for college and high school students as part of the $11 million.

The state Department of Education will release more information about the grant application process in coming days, according to the governor's office.

s.spinella@theday.com

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